Monday, November 2, 2015

Western Carolina Insane Asylum

In 1850, influential mental health activist Dorthea Dix petitioned the North Carolina General Assembly to support and build a psychiatric hospital to treat the insane. Built in Morganton on 283 acres of land, Western Carolina Insane Asylum was built using mostlyconvict lease labor; they were mostly African American, often entrapped in a system close to slavery.[3] Opened on March 29, 1883, the asylum admitted physician Dr. Red Pepper as its first patient. By 1884 its first director, Dr. Patrick Livingston Murphy, reported to the General Assembly that more space was needed. In 1885 and 1886 two new wings were opened, expanding the hospital's bed space to over 500 patients.

In 1890 the hospital's name was changed to State Hospital at Morganton, a name it kept until 1959. Patients were used to construct roads on the property, and establish and maintain the gardens and grounds. By 1893 the hospital's holdings would encompass over 300 acres. During the early 1900s the hospital expanded greatly. Using the colony system, a farm area was established with a dairy, vineyard and greenhouses, all staffed by patients of varying degrees of functionality. The hospital was nearly self-sufficient. Additional expansions and land holdings would take place until just after World War I when public attitudes about mental health patients changed dramatically. The hospital, like many others of this time period, was neglected and suffered during the state and national financial problems of the Great Depression.

During the 1920s, the patient-to-physician ratio was 300-to-1; by the 1930s this was almost 500-to-1. Hours for attendants and nurses were intensive, and time off was sparse. Attendants usually slept in the same wards with patients until further expansion during the 1940s. By that time, the hospital's census topped 3,500 patients. In 1959, State Hospital at Morganton became Broughton Hospital, named after World War II Governor J. Melville Broughton.

Old Mr. Digh

This past weekend I was itching to find some new homes to explore and's like the call of the wild that cannot be ignored, nor will it subside. Driving down the backroads, I barely caught a glimpse of what looked like a large, old cabin, practically strangled by the trees growing around it. We turned into a long gravel driveway and pulled into the house next to it, hoping to find the owner. I knocked on the door and was greeted by an elderly man that was more than happy to engage in conversation with me when asked about the log cabin on his property. I requested permission to photograph the cabin but I also wanted to know the history of it...I've found that the stories are as important, if not more, than the pictures themselves.

It's an interesting hobby I've become quite addicted to...walking up to perfect strangers and blunty asking for permission to explore their dusty memories behind those rotting walls. I go on to ask about their homes, their family, and their history. They're always eager to share this information, and I'm just as eager to hear it. I can't help but to wonder what's inside and imagine the lives that breathed within it.

Mr. Digh (pronounced Die) was his name. He was a pleasant man and talked (with a big smile) about his great great grandfather that built the cabin out of hand hewn logs. He then invited us inside so he could proudly show us the heavy, antiquated axe that was used to cut the timber. There was an additional cabin off to the side of the main cabin that was built in 1812. He spoke fondly of his ancestors and boasted of the deed that was dated 1812, giving his family the very land he lived on. He graciously gave us full range of the barns, horse stables, and two log cabins on his land. These are just a few of the shots I took...but meeting cheerful old Mr.Digh far outweighed the pictures.